Chandler teacher finalist for Teacher of the Year The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler teacher finalist for Teacher of the Year

Chandler teacher finalist for Teacher of the Year
City News

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

A Chandler High School teacher has been named one of five finalists for the Arizona Education Foundation’s “Teacher of the Year” award.

Sara Wyffels, a Spanish teacher for 13 years, is in the running to get one of the state’s top education honors that results in a $15,000 prize and a free trip to the White House.

Wyffels will find out on Oct. 23 whether she will be picked as Arizona’s best teacher of 2021 from a group that also includes educators from Glendale, Tucson, Flagstaff and Sahuarita.

The five finalists, dubbed by the foundation as “Ambassadors of Excellence,” will spend the next year engaging in professional development and delivering presentations across the state on their experiences as educators.

The foundation picks 10 semi-finalists each year from a list of nominations submitted by school districts across the state. Judges choose the finalists after interviewing all 10 candidates and reviewing a videotaped lesson the teachers prepare in their classroom.

Wyffels said she’s beyond excited to be named a finalist from a competitive group of nominees and is excited to start her work as one of the foundation’s newest ambassadors.

“I am grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had to grow as an educator and I am looking forward to being an advocate in this capacity,” she said.

Chandler Unified administrators have been quick to praise Wyffels’s recent accomplishment and have wished her luck on earning the foundation’s top prize.

Superintendent Camille Casteel called Wyffels a “delightful” instructor and board member David Evans applauded her “amazing” ability to connect with students.

Evans said his own son continues to applaud and commend Wyffels’s skills in the classroom, despite having graduated from Chandler High several years ago.

Wyffels credited the district for helping her become a better teacher over the years and for creating a working environment that’s allowed her to explore her curiosities.

“CUSD has supported my professional growth for the past 13 years and has given me a family of extraordinary colleagues with whom I have the joy to collaborate,” she added.

Wyffels became interested in studying Spanish after taking a language course in high school and knew quickly she had found her calling as a teacher.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University and taught at schools in Oregon before relocating to Arizona in 2008.

Wyffels has become a notable leader in the district’s initiatives to introduce practices that establish a more equitable and inclusive learning environment for students.

A few years ago, CUSD began releasing data that illustrated significant achievement gaps between students of different races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds.

In response, Chandler Unified has begun devoting more resources to close these education gaps and training teachers on how to make all their students feel included in the classroom.

Wyffels said she believes all students should have equitable access to education and strives to encourage them to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. 

“I use my class as a tool for equity,” she said in 2019. “I empower the marginalized by expecting more of them.”

Wyffels recently represented CUSD on a statewide committee of teachers that advised the Arizona Department of Education on how schools should reopen during the pandemic.

The committee was focused on ensuring state authorities considered the extra workload teachers would have to take on by shifting their curriculum over to a virtual-friendly format, Wyffels said.

“There’s a concern of possibly teachers getting overloaded with a combination of virtual learning and in-person learning,” Wyffels said earlier this year. “I think that could burn a lot of people out.”

The foundation’s honor isn’t the first Wyffels has received in recent years for her teaching capabilities. In 2015, she was named “Teacher of the Year” by the Arizona International Baccalaureate Schools organization.

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